10 Sneaky Reasons Your Vagina’s So Itchy
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10 Sneaky Reasons Your Vagina’s So Itchy

From herpes to hormone changes, here’s your go-to guide for itchy vaginas.

1 / 14

By Rose Hayes

It’s normal to feel a little itchy down there from time to time. Routine changes in your vagina’s environment, like its acidity level or amount of “good” bacteria, are expected to cause occasional itchiness and discharge.

Sometimes, however, outside factors like beauty products, condoms and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be to blame. We asked Arunachalam Jothivijayarani, MD, a gynecologist at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, Florida to explain common causes of itching, and when to seek medical help for an irritated vag.

Your period’s about to start

2 / 14 Your period’s about to start

Itchiness is another sign of PMS? Why are we not surprised?  

Vaginal itching can result from hormone swings that occur around the time of your period.  

Here's how those changes can cause itching:

  • Good bacteria called lactobacilli live in your vagina.
  • Lactobacilli create lactic acid, which raises the acidity of your vagina.
  • When it has the right level of acidity, or pH, your vagina is able to protect itself against bad bacteria and yeast.  
  • Hormone changes may disrupt this process and lower your pH. That can cause irritation, or encourage the overgrowth of itchy yeast. 
You’re surprisingly sensitive to some everyday products

3 / 14 You’re surprisingly sensitive to some everyday products

There’s a massive list of things that can cause vaginal irritation, says Jothivijayarani. To start with, just the toilet paper you use can be an issue, especially if it’s scented or has a rough texture. Other potential culprits:

  • Fabric softeners
  • Body washes
  • Bubble baths, bath salts and scented oils

And feminine pads are often chemically treated to make them extra absorbent, she explains. Treated pads can aggravate sensitive vaginal tissue or trigger an allergic reaction. Avoid harsh chemicals by choosing “regular” or “hypoallergenic,” instead of “extra absorbent” pads.

Your vagina doesn’t like tampons

4 / 14 Your vagina doesn’t like tampons

Tampons can cause micro-traumas, or tiny cuts on the walls of your vagina, says Jothivijayarani.

They do so by absorbing your vagina’s protective mucus, or moisture. The resulting dryness makes your lining more likely to tear when you insert, and later remove, the tampon. Tiny cuts then put you at risk for infections, especially if you leave a tampon in for too long.

The bottom line: If you’re experiencing vaginal itching or dryness, switch from tampons to hypoallergenic pads until your symptoms clear—or avoid them altogether. 

You’re allergic to sex

5 / 14 You’re allergic to sex

Ok not literally… but you could be allergic to latex condoms. Latex is a sticky plant substance that’s used to make rubber. It’s found in products like rubber gloves and some medical devices. Often, people don’t realize they’re allergic to it until they’re intimately exposed—during sex.

Stop what you’re doing if your partner’s condom causes vaginal itching, burning or a rash. If this happens, make an appointment to get tested for a latex allergy.

Call 9-1-1 if you develop signs of a serious allergic reaction like chest pain, trouble breathing, dizziness or palpitations.

And fear not—they make latex-free condoms too.

You could have BV

6 / 14 You could have BV

The top three infections behind vaginal itching are bacterial vaginosis (BV), yeast infections and an STI called trichomoniasis. Together, they account for more than 90 percent of vaginal infections.

BV can be caused by a number of different germs. It may come from bacteria in stool—one reason you should wipe “front-to-back.” It may also develop if the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in your vagina changes.

“There’s always bad bacteria in the vagina, but in very small amounts,” explains Jothivijayarani. “When the balance shifts—maybe because your vaginal pH changes—BV can occur.”

The hallmark symptom of BV is a fishy-smelling discharge. Some women experience itching, too, while others might have no symptoms at all.

These steps can lower your risk:

  • Have your partner wear a condom during sex.
  • Don’t douche: Your body has mechanisms to clean itself, Jothivijayarani says. Douching won’t clear an infection and, in fact, it can remove good bacteria.
  • If your doctor prescribes antibiotics to treat BV, finish the entire course.

Now, about yeast infections…

You left your bathing suit on too long

7 / 14 You left your bathing suit on too long

Some yeast is normal in a healthy vagina, but certain conditions can encourage it to overgrow. Bathing suit season is prime time for yeast infections. Yeast loves warm, moist environments; so sitting around in a wet bathing suit for hours can trigger an infection.

Symptoms include:

  • Thick, white, “cottage-cheese” discharge
  • Pain with sex or urination
  • Red, irritated skin around the vagina

How to avoid an infection: Carry a clean pair of panties in your beach bag and change after swimming; avoid tight-fitting panty hose and jeans; switch out pads and tampons often.

You might have this common STI

8 / 14 You might have this common STI

Trichomoniasis is the most common curable STI, with over 3.7 million cases in the US. Many people don’t experience any symptoms with this infection, but some signs to look for include:

  • “Froggy-green” and “foamy” vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal itching
  • Burning or pain with urination
  • Pain during sex

If you experience these symptoms or think you’ve been exposed, see your OBGYN right away. They’ll examine your vagina and take a discharge sample. If you test positive, don’t panic—treatment is simple; you’ll need to take a dose or, in some cases, complete a seven-day course of antibiotics. Since trichomoniasis is an STI, using condoms will reduce your chance of infection.

It could be herpes if…

9 / 14 It could be herpes if…

Genital herpes is highly common—about one in five Americans carry it—and it’s possible to go years without realizing you have it. The virus may live in your system for some time without causing symptoms. That’s why it’s important to get tested if you might have been exposed through unprotected sex.

Your initial outbreak, or the first time you experience symptoms, is typically the most severe, with blisters that may last for two to three weeks. Before blisters appear, you might feel itching, tingling or pain, called the “prodromal phase.”

Stress, illness and exhaustion can trigger future outbreaks. Your doctor may recommend an anti-viral medication like acyclovir to prevent or treat symptoms as needed. How often you’ll need medication will depend on the severity and frequency of your outbreaks.

Your sex-toys could use a good scrubbing

10 / 14 Your sex-toys could use a good scrubbing

Cleaning may be the last thing on your mind after using your sex toy, but it’s worth consideration. Even if you didn’t have a yeast or urinary tract infection when you first used it, bacteria can build up between sessions if it goes unwashed.

Most products come with instructions on how they should be cleaned. You should actually read these because some materials need special care.

Once your toy is sparkly clean, store it in a bag or a case where it won’t get exposed to dirt or household germs. 

You’re transitioning to menopause

11 / 14 You’re transitioning to menopause

“One of the most common reasons for vaginal itching is the transition to menopause,” says Dr. Jothivijayarani. “It’s often happens after a woman’s been through menopause as well—and people don’t talk about it enough.”

The drop in estrogen that comes with menopause may contribute to itchiness by:

  • Causing vaginal dryness
  • Disrupting your vaginal pH
  • Causing your vaginal wall to thin, which makes it more sensitive
  • Weakening the lining of your urethra, the tube that empties urine, leading to light bladder leakage (LBL)

So what can you do about? 

Treatments for menopause-related itchiness

12 / 14 Treatments for menopause-related itchiness

“First of all, many women don’t discuss vaginal discomfort with their doctor, maybe because they’re a little bit shy,” says Jothivijayarani. “Meanwhile, the itching and burning may be affecting their sleep; their social life might be affected if they stop going out.”

But speak up—your OBGYN may be able to prescribe a simple estrogen cream, or an estrogen suppository, to relieve itching.

Another thing: thinning vaginal walls are more prone to tears and infections. If you find yourself constantly fighting off yeast infections, over-the-counter meds might not be addressing the real problem—you may need an estrogen suppository to strengthen your vaginal tissue.

Itchy vagina hacks for menopause

13 / 14 Itchy vagina hacks for menopause

Along with any topical creams or medications prescribed by your OBGYN, there are some simple DIY solutions you can try at home:

  • Rinse yourself after using the toilet and pat dry—don’t rub. Both residual urine and rubbing with toilet paper can irritate your delicate lady parts.
  • Take a sitz bath, or a small, shallow bath that you sit in. Fill it with warm water and any products recommended by your OBGYN. It can help keep your vagina moist and reduce inflammation. “I tell my patients, ‘Your skin is like sponge. When a sponge dries out, it becomes brittle and can easily get irritated. On the other hand, if it’s well hydrated, it becomes thicker and won’t crack so easily.'”
  • Try an over-the-counter steroid ointment. It can be a lifesaver if your vagina is extra inflamed. “It diffuses itching and reduces inflammation, but you cannot use it long-term because it can also thin your vagina’s skin over time,” says Jothivijayarani. 
Does your itchy vagina need professional help?

14 / 14 Does your itchy vagina need professional help?

Vaginal irritation often gets better on its own. But you should see your gynecologist if the itching lasts longer than a week or interferes with your daily activities. “And if it’s associated with other symptoms like burning, pain or vaginal discharge, that definitely means it needs medical attention,” says Dr. Jothivijayarani.

Other reasons to call your OBGYN:

  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain or bloating
  • Vaginal odor
  • Skin changes like blisters on your vagina or surrounding areas
  • If you’ve recently had unprotected sex

Don’t have an OBGYN yet? Sharecare can help you find one in your area.

If you’re worried about cost, this interactive map from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can point you to free or low-cost women’s health services near you.

Read more from Dr. Jothivijayarani.

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